Miguel Arraes de Alencar was born in Araripe, Ceará, on 15 December 1916, to a small businessman and farmer, José Almino de Alencar e Silva and Maria Beningna Arraes de Alencar.
After finishing secondary school in Crato, Ceará, in 1932, he moved to Rio de Janeiro, at the time the Federal District, living with an uncle. The following year he enrolled in Law. In 1933, without the financial resources to pay for his studies, he returned to the capital of Pernambuco, enrolling in the Recife Law Faculty, graduating in 1937.
He passed a public exam for the Institute of Sugar and Alcohol (IAA), which would play an important part in his life, and where from 1943 to 1947 he would work as the Institute’s head attorney.
Through this institution, he became friends and an admirer of Barbosa Lima Sobrinho, ex-governor of Pernambuco and ex-president of the Brazilian Press Association. Also, through the nature of his work, he became a great defender of the workers from the State’s sugarcane industry. It was also the IAA that allowed him to better understand the power of influence that the Pernambuco sugarcane aristocracy had, enabling him to use it as an ally at times during his political career.
In the Barbosa Lima Sobrinho government, he assumed the role of State Revenue Secretary in 1947. In October 1950, he ran for a place in the Pernambuco Legislative Assembly for the Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrático – PSD), coming second in the election. Then in 1954, he was elected State congressman for the Social Working Party (Partido Social Trabalhista – PST).
In 1955, Arraes’ candidate for the State government, João Cleofas de Oliveira, was defeated by General Cordeiro de Farias, making him become part of the opposition benches in the Assembly. In the same year he supported Pelópidas da Silveira, who was elected as Mayor of Recife, and gave his support, alongside congressman Francisco Julião, to the recently-created Pernambuco Agricultural and Cattle Raising Society, which would become the origin for the Peasant Leagues in the State.
In the 1958 campaign for State government, he played a vital part in the victory of Cid Sampaio, which represented the first majority defeat of the PSD in Pernambuco since 1945, the end of the ‘New State’. Strangely, however, Arraes lost his re-election bid for the Legislative Assembly.
In 1959, he once again became Revenue Secretary and in August he was elected as Mayor of Recife, officially assuming the position in December. His administration is remembered for the improvement of the water and electricity systems, the urbanisation of suburbs, paving and implementing street lighting in many streets and the inauguration of the trolley bus network.
In 1960, he severed ties with Cid Sampaio, who supported the candidacy of Jânio Quadros to the Presidency of the Republic, while Arraes’ candidate was Henrique Teixeira Lott. With the resignation of Jânio in 1961, he defended the appointment of Vice-president João Goulart, unwanted by the military. In this year was the death of his first wife, Célia de Souza Leão, with whom he had eight children: Ana Lúcia, José Almino, Guel, Carlos Augusto, Maurício, Marcos, Luís Cláudio and Carmem Silvia. Arraes remarried, during this time, to Maria Madalena Fiúza. They had two children (Pedro and Mariana) and lived together until his death.
Defeating the candidacies of Armando Monteiro Filho and João Cleofas, Miguel Arraes won the elections for Pernambuco State Governor 1962, taking office in January 1963. At the beginning of his administration, he made an unprecedented pact with sugarcane factory owners, guaranteeing benefits for sugarcane industry workers including the payment of a minimum wage, gaining the support of social movements and, on the other hand, the suspicions of the conservative sectors.
The military coup in 1964 deposed President João Goulart on 31 March. A day later, army troops laid siege to the Palácio do Campo das Princesas. As Arraes refused to resign, he was deposed and arrested. He was taken to the 14th Infantry Regiment headquarters in Recife and later to Fernando de Noronha Island, where he remained until December. On his return, he was imprisoned at the Military Police Headquarters, then transferred to Fortaleza de Santa Cruz, in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro State.
Through habeas corpus granted by the Federal Supreme Court, Arraes was released on 21 April 1965. que recebeu o nº 42.108, It was Heráclito Fontoura Sobral Pinto e Antônio de Brito Alves who petitioned for habeas corpus, given number 42.108, and with Minister Evandro Lins e Silva as its Rapporteur. Before the Court’s unanimous decision on 19 April, Arraes was twice denied appeals made to the Military Courts, with the objective of ending the illegal imprisonment he was being subjected to.
However, owing to a manifesto criticising the inquiries conducted by the regime’s military police, he was prosecuted under the National Security Law on 20 May. With the threat of being imprisoned again, he was granted asylum by the Algerian Embassy on 24 May and travelled to Algiers on 16 June. At this time, bipartisanism was installed in Brazil, causing the only political parties to be the Aliança Renovadora Nacional (Arena) and Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (MDB). Arraes declared his support for the MDB, in opposition to the military government. His return to Brazil occurred on 15 September 1979, after 14 years in exile, under the Amnesty Law sanctioned on 28 August.
In 1982, he was elected as Federal congressman for Pernambuco, with 191,471 votes, a record for proportional elections in the States. In 1984, he supported the candidacy of Tancredo Neves in indirect elections for President of the Republic.
With over 500 thousand votes more than candidate José Múcio Monteiro, Miguel Arraes won his second mandate as governor of Pernambuco in 1986. Fulfilling a campaign promise, he returned to the front door of the Palácio do Campo das Princesas, as a reference to his deposition by the military, with a huge public party on 15 March 1987. In this administration he kept his ties to the peasant workers and to the generally excluded. He launched meaningful social programmes, such as “Chapéu de Palha” (Straw Hat), which consisted of the contracting of sugarcane workers to work on small public works, in order to minimise the effects of the sugarcane off-season which left a large number of workers without any income, and “Água na Roça” (Water in the Countryside), which financed motorised water pumps for irrigation. During this period a large project was implemented to bring electricity to small rural properties.
In February 1990 he left PMDB, joining the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB). In March he resigned as governor and stood for Federal Congress, winning 339,197 votes, which was, proportionally, the highest number for a congressman in the country. In 1992, he assumed the national presidency of the PSB.
After winning in the first round of the 1994 elections, with 54.12% of the vote, Arraes was the Pernambuco Governor for the third time, officially sworn in on 1 January 1995. This term would be overshadowed by the denouncement of irregular public payment orders, an operation where public titles are issued to pay for judicial debts. Supported by a State law, which authorised the payment of employee salaries, works and other public expenses with resources from the public payment orders, the government issued 408 thousand titles and raised R$402 million.
The financial operation became known as the “escândalo dos precatórios” (payment order scandal) and directly influence the State Governor elections in 1998, being completely exploited by the coalition of political parties that supported Jarbas Vasconcelos. Arraes would suffer, therefore, his worst political defeat, losing the election by over one million votes.
In 2002, was elected to the Federal congress for the third time and, in 2003, he was appointed to the presidency of the PSB for the sixth consecutive time.
On 13 August 2005, 58 days after his internment at Hospital Esperança, Miguel Arraes died from septicaemia.
This ended a national political cycle that represented over fifty years of public life devoted to the defence of the less-favoured classes of the population. He was called ‘Pai Arraia’ (Father Arraia) by the rural workers. The peasants saw him as the “father of the poor”, someone who recognised their rights and knew how to promote deals that improved the lives of the population.
With the death of the man, remains the myth in Brazilian political history.
Recife, 30 August 2005.
(Updated on 16 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
ALVES, Antônio de Brito. O habeas-corpus de Miguel Arraes. Recife: Mousinho, 1965.
MORRE Arraes, fica o mito. Jornal do Commercio, Recife, 14 ago. 2005. Caderno especial.
SILVA, Hilo Lins e. Miguel Arraes de Alencar. In: ______. Recife, conceitos e evocações. Recife: [s.n.], 1984. p.122-125.
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Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Miguel Arraes de Alencar. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.